Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (Pentecost)

While Passover has some overlap with the barley harvest in Israel, Pentecost has some relationship to the wheat harvest.  Both Passover (Exodus 23:15) and Pentecost (Exodus 23:16a), which came 50 days after Passover, are pilgrimage festivals along with Tabernacles (Exodus 23:16b)and required a trip to the central place of worship in Israel.  After some more temporary locations prior to the conquest of Jerusalem, David moved the Tabernacle to Jerusalem and Solomon built the Temple there and this became the permanent site for pilgrimage.

As you might suspect, if pilgrims from a long way off made it to Jerusalem for Passover, there was some motivation for staying there 50 days until Pentecost (hence, it was also called the feast of weeks, Exodus 34:22).  This made for one long period of celebration and festivities.  The main event of this feast was the offering of two bread loaves to Yahweh in gratitude for the harvests.

Leviticus 23:15-21 describes the details of the festival:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. 16 Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. 17 From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. 18 Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the LORD, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. 19 Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. 20 The priest is to wave the two lambs before the LORD as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the LORD for the priest. 21 On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.

An admonition frequently associated with the feast of weeks or Pentecost was,  “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22).  So the Israelites associated this holiday not only with provision for the Levites but for the poor, as well.

The first Pentecost was observed on the day Israel came to Sinai and God came down on the mountain to give them the Law (Exodus 19,20).  The people were delivered when the  angel passed over their blood-stained doors in Egypt and spared their firstborn children.  The Egyptians finally allowed them to depart.  At Sinai they became a nation in covenant with Yahweh.  So Pentecost highlights the completion of Israel’s deliverance and formation as the people of God.

Much has been made of the significance of the two loaves.  Was this a foreshadowing of the two peoples whom God would redeem, Israel and the Gentiles?  Was it meant to represent Jesus and his bride, the church, being wed before God?  Whatever their significance, it is fascinating that Jesus chose to send the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after his crucifixion and resurrection, to inaugurate the Church.  Just as He purchased our salvation with his death and resurrection during Passover, He completed the new work of God at Pentecost.

[see representative viewpoints on the significance of Pentecost here: http://www.triumphpro.com/two-loaves.htm and http://philologos.org/__eb-ttms/temple13.htm]


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